The importance of visual marketing in the automotive industry

Photo above © Monica Linzmeier

Over the past century, the automobile industry has shown it’s flexibility and ability to adapt to and implement emerging technologies. Ever since Karl Benz invented the first automobile in 1886 to now, technology has reinvented the entire automotive industry in terms of how cars are now being manufactured, operated and sold.

One thing that hasn’t changed, is that photos and visuals have been a staple in marketing in the automotive industry. From hand-drawn Pontiac ads to dramatic Ferrari posters, images have always been used not only to depict the modern vehicle but also to paint the picture of what your life could be like.  



So why are images such an essential part of the automotive business? According to a study by MDG Advertising, people typically retain only 10% of information three days after hearing it, but that number increased to 65% when a photo was used to relate the information. 

It is not just about retention rates either. With nearly two-thirds of people saying they are “visual learners,” consumers are significantly more likely to think favorably of ads that emphasize photography, over ads that emphasize text. 

Visuals create an emotional connection

The most successful brands in the auto industry are able to use their photos and their videos to reach out on an emotional level. Steve Olenski puts it nicely in his article for Forbes

“What makes the die-hard BMW owner invest in a new BMW? Because he knows that this car is more than just a car. It is the ultimate driving machine.”

Did you catch the keywords there? More than just a car. BMW, General Motors, Nissan, Ford, Renault; no matter the brand, no matter the company behind it, these companies know that selling cars comes down to selling a way of life, rather than selling a vehicle. 

Each type of vehicle has a story attached to it, rather than just a price tag. And the art of storytelling begins way before the showroom, they begin with visual marketing. 

When you buy a Jeep Cherokee, you aren’t buying just a Jeep Cherokee, you are buying an outdoorsy lifestyle, you are projecting an image of the ultimate adventurer and everyone will know it when you drive up. 

Take a look at this ad for Jaguar. 

© Jaguar

What’s the story here? Driving the Jaguar F Type is going to literally turn heads and people will line up just to try it out. When you drive the Jaguar, you are at the center of attention, and it’s your turn to try it.  Marketing has come a long way from the hand-drawn ads of the La Salle, but images remain as important as ever. 

Let’s take a look at the 2020 Toyota Sienna, that tells a slightly different story: 

Toyota Sienna Marketing Photo

© Toyota

Scroll through the Sienna gallery a little bit and you’ll find smiling families out on their weekend trips, plenty of storage, wheelchair accessibility and more. In just a few photos the Toyota Sienna has told a pretty good story about what you’ll get: a reliable, family-centric car that will let you go the extra mile in comfort.  

What’s next for the automotive industry?: Future of vehicles as a service 

It’s no secret that the automotive industry has gone through a rough patch, but that is why effective visual marketing is more important than ever. 

But while the future of the automotive industry has seemed a little fuzzy for the past few years, today in 2019, it appears that mobility-as-a-service is the most likely outcome for the future. While carsharing is by no means a new invention, in recent years we’ve seen the bigger players jump on board. 

In 2016, General Motors invested $500 Million in Lyft, just last year Group Renault launched a green carsharing service for the city of Paris, and this year Volvo and Uber rolled out their autonomous vehicle! 

As the large manufacturers shift away from individual car sales and shift towards mobility-as-a-service, it has become more and more important to sell cars as a lifestyle choice. 

Check out this friendly photo by Zipcar. Zipcar is one of the oldest players in the carsharing field and by quickly browsing their press library, you’ll notice it’s a little different than a car dealership. Rather than focusing on the type of car, they focus on the experience that their service provides. The photo below shows college students in a parking lot, renting the car for the day to buy things for their dorm rooms.  

Zipcar San Diego State University

© Zipcar

This is good storytelling, in a single shot, they’ve given you the impression that Zipcar is accessible, affordable, friendly, useful and to be shared: exactly what Zipcar stands for. The majority of their photos in the United States show the different things people use Zipcar for, like job interviews, weekends in the countryside, grocery shopping, anything that you might occasionally need a car for. 

WeShare is another carsharing company launched in June of this year by Volkswagen in Berlin. 


WeShare Germany

© We Share

They too have opted for a people-centric marketing strategy. The photo above barely even shows the branding of the fleet and even less of the car. The future of the automotive industry is driven by people, and that’s the takeaway. 

So how can you improve your visual marketing? If we’ve learned anything from the leading experts, it's not about selling a vehicle. It’s about selling a lifestyle and having imagery to tell that story. 

Sports Cars Photography

© Meero

Meero is transforming the world of photography by providing one-stop-shop car photography services for companies that need lots of photos. 

Learn more about how Meero can help you create a stunning visual identity for your brand or dealership here.  


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